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Politics as Usual at Gina McCarthy Hearings

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The April 11th confirmation hearing of nominee Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was a robust exchange encapsulating the primary points of view consistently espoused on each side of the aisle.

Questioned were the efficacy of the department, it's standards, the alleged conflict between public health and the economy, and whether there is any relevance to the concerns about global warming.

Unsurprisingly, comments and inquiries reflected partisan viewpoints. For Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WYO), the matter of surreptitious e-mail accounts being used within the EPA was tantamount, along with a lack of transparency in the EPA's dealings. Chairwoman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-CA), was quick to fire back with a rejoinder about the e-mail track record of administrators during the Bush terms, including Christie Whitman.

Barrasso also promoted the "loss of jobs" claim, citing coal-fired plants that have been closed. He posited, "Does the EPA bear responsibility for people out of work?"  Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) wanted to know if "clean coal" technology could be developed. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-ALA) expressed apprehension that carbon dioxide was being defined as a pollutant. He qualified that as "massive government reach," asserting, "So I worry about it."

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Democratic Senators interpreted their uneasiness through a very different prism. Regarding the economic fallout, Boxer repeated her frequently used phrase, "If you can't breathe, you can't work." Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) spoke specifically to the jobs crisis in his state, and why he believes that climate change alarms are crucial. He outlined the adversities his constituents were facing in the farming and lumber sectors. He noted that their livelihoods had been impacted due to climate change. He referenced "beetle infestations" and a fire that had covered an area the "size of Rhode Island." He pointed out how fisherman in the oyster industry had been affected by the ocean's acidification. He stated plainly, "I'm concerned about my communities."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) emphasized the fact that the 1970 Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were bipartisan, while underscoring that the cost/benefit ratio of a clean environment was "well-documented."

Sen. Bernie Sanders
(Image by Photo: Courtesy of US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works)
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Sen. Bernie Sanders by Photo: Courtesy of US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Offering into the record a statement designed to take the conversation into a different direction, Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), insisted that the hearing was not really a referendum on Gina McCarthy, but rather--"a debate about global warming" and whether the country was prepared to "face that crisis in a serious manner." Sanders declared, "I want the EPA to be vigorous."  Remarking that in 2012, scientists had said that their earlier projections about "extreme weather disturbances" were underestimated, Sanders took the opportunity to remark on Sen. James Inhofe's (R-OK) claim that global warming was a "hoax." Sanders intoned, "We must act boldly," and suggested an infrastructure plan that would transform challenges into "economic opportunity."

According to The Hill, "Boxer told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday [4/16] that [the] McCarthy [vote] would come up either next week or the first week back after the April 29-May 3 recess."

With stats showing that 69 percent of Americans support cleaner air, it will be interesting to follow the vote on McCarthy, who Sen. Elizabeth Warren described as "tough but fair"--having served across party lines.

When it finally came time for McCarthy to speak and respond to questions, she had one top take away and an addendum. She said, "Environmental Protection is not a partisan issue. My door is always open."

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This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force

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Marcia G. Yerman is a writer, activist, artist and curator based in New York City. Her articles--profiles, interviews, reporting and essays--focus on women's issues, the environment, human rights, the arts and culture. Her writing has been (more...)

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